From left, Craig elementary school physical education teachers Tim Hurst, Susan Nicholson, Matt Ray and Karen Rohnke, learn to teach the Virgina Reel dance by doing it themselves as part of SPARK training. SPARK is the new physical education curriculum chosen by teachers of Moffat County and other area school districts. The new curriculum, along with new equipment, is funded by a grant from the Colorado Health Foundation.

Photo by Darian Warden

From left, Craig elementary school physical education teachers Tim Hurst, Susan Nicholson, Matt Ray and Karen Rohnke, learn to teach the Virgina Reel dance by doing it themselves as part of SPARK training. SPARK is the new physical education curriculum chosen by teachers of Moffat County and other area school districts. The new curriculum, along with new equipment, is funded by a grant from the Colorado Health Foundation.

Moffat County School District physical education programs receive part of $825,553 grant for new curriculum, equipment

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Susan Nicholson, right, physical education teacher at Sunset Elementary School, and Matt Ray, physical education teacher at Ridgeview Elementary School, participate in a SPARK activity during their training to learn Moffat County School District's new curriculum at South Routt High School in Oak Creek. Teachers spent most of the time learning by actually doing activities their students will do. Moffat County teachers were joined by physical education teachers from six other districts.

Moffat County School District physical education programs received part of an $825,553 grant from the Colorado Health Foundation, along with six other area school districts, to spend on new curriculum and equipment.

The grant, which the Northwest Colorado Board of Cooperative Educational Services applied for, is to be used over a three and a half year period, beginning in February 2011, said BOCES executive director, Jane Toothaker.

Through the grant, elementary physical education programs receive $8,000 each, middle school $10,000 and high school $14,000 for curriculum and equipment this year.

After deciding to go with SPARK, Sports Play and Active Recreation for Kids, as their new curriculum, teachers spent last week training with a SPARK trainer at South Routt High School in Oak Creek.

Angel Clark, of BOCES, said the grant covers all expenses including substitutes for teachers during training and the training itself, with no cost to the district.

Clark said physical education gets left behind sometimes amongst other areas in schools when it comes to money in the budget and equipment.

“My budget is normally $400. For some it’s $200. Look through one of those equipment catalogues, that doesn’t go very far,” said Susan Nicholson, physical education teacher at Sunset Elementary School.

SPARK trainer Laura Matney said SPARK is all about promoting lifelong fitness, battling childhood obesity, getting kids active and disguising fitness. Matney said kids will be having so much fun participating in SPARK activities, they won’t know what they’re doing is considered fitness.

Matney said the program enhances other areas of students' lives including academics and social skills.

Matney said SPARK has been around for 23 years and has a global reach.

Teachers received a SPARK folio during their training, which includes everything they need to teach the curriculum. Included are assessments, programs, activity cards, music to accompany lessons and bilingual cards.

Tim Hurst, PE teacher at Sandrock Elementary School, said teachers are looking to improve and be more active.

“It’s not a whole new curriculum but something to supplement what we already do,” Hurst said.

Teacher’s training sessions were a testament to the way the SPARK program works, with teachers spending 20 percent of the time in a classroom and 80 percent of the time in the gym, actively learning and engaging in activities their students will do.

“It sticks better if we understand how it works and can relate to it,” said Karen Rohnke, of East Elementary School.

BOCES applied for the grant and distributed it amongst the seven districts it serves, East Grand, Hayden, Moffat County, North Park, South Routt, Steamboat Springs and West Grand. Clark said the training has been nice because although it’s seven districts, it’s one group working together for the common cause of improving physical education.

All grade levels will use SPARK, while elementary schools will also use the book "Children Moving” for additional curriculum and high schools will implement Project Adventure, Clark said.

Matt Ray, of Ridgeview Elementary School, said he likes SPARK because instruction happens while activities are going.

“Student’s are learning as they participate instead of sitting around listening then doing,” Ray said.

Toothaker said applying for the grant for all seven districts was quite a process, considering the Colorado Health Foundation usually awards grants per district, not multiples.

The first time for the region, Toothaker said BOCES has set the trend for the region.

“We’ve learned quite a bit through the process. We worked through the challenges and the bottom line is that this is a great thing for students and schools,” Toothaker said. “The challenges have been well worth working through.”

Darian Warden can be reached at 875-1793 or at dwarden@craigdailypress.com

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